Accessories of Suffrage: Political Brooches and Unifying Colors

In honor of the Women’s March that took place this month on January 24, 2018, I thought it would be only fitting to highlight some pieces of Women’s Suffrage jewelry and accessories. The chief concern of the suffragettes, and in fact, the definition of the word, was to obtain the right to vote through organized protest. Women had been campaigning for the right to vote since before the American Civil War, both in the United States and abroad, but it wasn’t until the early 20th century that the movement gained serious traction. Most of the examples of suffragette jewelry and accessories I’ve found are from the United States and the United Kingdom, but of course, there have been suffrage movements throughout the world and are likely other such global examples of accessories as well. Two museums in particular with great collections of these objects are the National Museum of American History and the Museum of London. The Museum of London is currently exhibiting “Votes for Women,” iconic objects from their Suffragette collection, Feb. 2, 2018 – Jan. 6, 2019, and is available to view online here.

 

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Suffragettes Selling Votes for Women Newspapers

Photo, 1908, Museum of London, 2003.46/149

These accessory items were either worn by suffragettes or sold to support their causes (like the button of Emmeline Pankhurst below which was sold for a penny) and were representative of their values. Particularly in the United Kingdom, the colors closely associated with the suffrage movement were purple for dignity, white for purity, and green for hope.[1] Though other colors were certainly used in jewelry worn by British suffragettes and pieces created to support their campaigns, these three colors were most often used, as is the case with the Hunger Strike Medal pictured below. Many resources regarding the colors assumed by many British suffragettes, and many Americans too, refer back to the article written in 1908 by Mrs, Pethick-Lawrence, in the newspaper, Votes for Women, of which she was treasurer and co-editor. She speaks of the colors adopted by the Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU), a well-known suffrage group in the U.K. that used militant methods for protest and was headed by Emmeline Pankhurst. Pethick-Lawrence wrote, “Purple as everyone knows is the royal colour. It stands for the royal blood that flows in the veins of every suffragette, the instinct of freedom and dignity…white stands for purity in private and public life…green is the colour of hope and the emblem of spring.” This suffrage group, the WSPU, was the first to officially align itself with these colors, and many others would follow. These colors were useful as a marketing tool for the cause, as they easily identified the protesters to onlookers and became a recognizable color scheme.

 

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Celluloid Button Badge of Suffragette,                                  Silver Hunger Strike Medal            Emmeline Pankhurst                                                                Presented to Suffragette,              Women’s Social and Political Union,                                     Florence Haig                                  1910, Museum of London, 50.82/1162                                   1912, Museum of London,                                                                                                                    50.82/1160oa

According to “Antique Collecting: The UK’s Leading Fine Art & Antiques Magazine,” suffragette jewelry was first created in the 1890s after the ban of the women’s suffrage movement.[2] However, the familiar color scheme would not be applied until 1908 by the WSPU, unless by coincidence. The Museum of London notes that, in 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst and her daughters formed the WSPU in Manchester with the slogan “Deeds Not Words,” and in doing so, reinvigorated the “Votes for Women” campaign.[3] This meant that more pieces of jewelry, pins, badges, and other accessories would need to be sold in order to finance their endeavors, but also to be worn by suffragettes as a outward symbol of their mission. To adorn these objects, one might have chosen an amethyst, a pearl, or an emerald as stones with corresponding colors. Most sources will agree, however, that these precious materials were not officially representative of the movement, but happened to be the right color and a popular choice in Edwardian jewelry at the time.[4] Keeping this in mind, there are many Edwardian jewelry pieces that utilize these stones and colors, but are not necessarily suffragette pieces.

While some objects were less conspicuous, such as a brooch made of amethyst, pearl, and emerald, others were formed with obvious meaning. The Holloway brooch below is of silver and enamel, designed by the daughter of Emmeline Pankhurst, and is the portcullis symbol of the House of Commons. Many suffragettes found themselves in Holloway prison as a result of their efforts, and were awarded this brooch as a medal of valor upon their release by fellow suffragettes.  This particular brooch was presented to Kate Lilley upon her release from Holloway in 1912.[5] The arrow made in the often-seen suffragette color scheme, is intended to represent the prison arrows that adorned British prison uniforms.

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Sylvia Pankhurst, Holloway Brooch,

1912, Museum of London, 2005.145/3

 

In the United States, some women did also wear purple, green, and white to support their cause, likely as a result of the popularity of the colors in the U.K., but the most prominent color for American women was yellow. This color was used in many pins, badges, sashes, and in decorative trim, like the objects shown below. As is the case with the Convention Badge below, some accessories were intended to be more informative and utilitarian.

 

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Woman Suffrage Convention Badge,                      Woman Suffrage Parade Cape with Yellow

1898, National Museum of American                      Trim, worn by Jennie Griswold, 1913

History, PL.242991.193                                              flannette, National Museum of American

                                                                                       History, PL.014951

 

These colors and symbols used in jewelry and accessories served as unifying tools and perceptible signs of the suffrage movement. Some were made with luxurious materials, like silver or amethyst, while others were much less costly, like ribbon or celluloid.

As a result of many years of protest, in the U.K., women over thirty obtained the right to vote in 1918, and later all British women in 1928. White American women obtained the right to vote 1920, though it is important to note that African-American women were, unfortunately, largely excluded from this privilege as a result of the ongoing racism that was still present in many parts of the United States. Black suffragettes were not allowed to participate in the white suffragette groups that had formed, and were expected to segregate at the back of the protest marches. They would not fully obtain the right to vote until many years later, varying by state (and in some cases not until the 1960s) despite the efforts of early black suffragettes like Harriet Tubman and Ida B. Wells. The complexity of this issue goes beyond what the scope of this post can adequately offer, but an excellent article on this important topic can be found here. A similar situation was occurring in Britain at this time for Indian women, and this site is a good place to start for information.

These jewelry pieces were a way to stylishly support voting rights for women in the 19th and early 20th centuries and represent continued efforts of women through the ages for equality and equal rights. Many used a known color scheme in their accessories as a means of identification, some clearly wrote their message on ribbons or sashes, and some used imagery like the face of Emmeline Pankhurst or the House of Commons to denote their allegiance. While many of the accessories are aesthetically beautiful, their underlying meaning is what makes them truly unique.

 

 

-Danielle Morrin

 

 

[1] Suffrage Science, “Jewellery,” http://suffragescience.org/jewellery_overview.html.

[2] Ivor Hughes, “Suffragette Memorabilia – Separating the Fact from Fiction,” Antique Collecting: The UK’s Leading Fine Art & Antiques Magazine, information from the New England Antiques Journal, October 8, 2015, http://www.antique-collecting.co.uk/suffragette-memorabilia-separating-the-fact-from-the-fiction/

[3] Museum of London, “Suffragette Campaign 1903-1918,” https://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/event/235.html.

[4] Deanna, “Myths & Misinformation About Suffrage Jewelry,” Inherited Values: Antiques & Vintage Collectibles, June 14, 2011, http://www.inherited-values.com/2011/06/myths-misinformation-about-suffrage-jewelry/.

[5] Museum of London, “Brooch,” January 21, 2016, https://collections.museumoflondon.org.uk/online/object/744234.html.

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